The Panasonic HC-X920 is not a pocket camcorder. Measuring 67 x 72 x 150 mm and weighing 460 grammes, it isn't exactly the most discreet device out there. But that doesn't mean it isn't comfortable to hold. It fits well in the hand, the proportions are just about right and the controls are fairly easy to reach. The Camera Function button, which brings you to all the most common manual settings, is conveniently located in the space between the lens and the display, allowing you to switch quickly from automatic to manual and change settings with your left hand by rotating the lens ring.
It's a well-built device. One of our only complaints with the design is that the ports behind the LCD display (which become exposed when you flip open the screen) don't have protective covers, so they're left at the mercy of any itinerant dust and water. All the other ports, however, (for the mic, headphone, power, the hot shoe...) do have plastic covers. As on the HC-X900, the hot shoe is located on the side of the body. We really don't understand the logic of that, because you're necessarily forced to use an adapter if you want to position your accessories above the body, as you normally would.
|Some of the ports have no protective cover (HDMI, A/V and USB)||For some reason the hot shoe is on the side of the body, which really isn't convenient|
The finely crafted LCD touchscreen is 8.9 cm diagonally (16:9) and has 1,152,000 dots. Bright colours look a little blown out on the display, but the shades are relatively accurate. There's an added bonus if you own a Panasonic VW-CLT2 3D conversion lens (£277): the screen shows glasses-free 3D. The HC-X920 records audio via a set of 5.1 microphones, with impressive results. The only time you can hear the built-in fan is when you're in an entirely silent setting.
|3D LCD display||Built-in 5.1 microphone|
One thing some people will love is the electronic viewfinder. Unfortunately, it's small and doesn't tilt. So isn't the best viewfinder out there; you'll probably only really use it when there's too much sunlight.
|Electronic viewfinder||Conveniently located Camera Function button|
The graphical interface is a fairly classic deal, with a button that takes you to the main menu, the Quick Menu and a few direct-access settings arranged in four windows. The iA and iA+ settings work well and manual mode gives you assisted focusing (a peaking function that highlights the areas that are in focus with coloured pixels) and allows you to tweak the white balance, exposure (zebra patterns and spot metering, as a percentage) and aperture. That's plenty of controls for most videographers.
The iris can't be adjusted separately from the gain. So when you close the lens, you won't be able to compensate with gain, as the gain is only adjustable at full aperture. It's not the end of the world, but we would have preferred a real manual mode. The screen shows tons of information (sometimes too much information) to help you film. There's a composition grid, an electronic level, the battery level, peaking, zebra stripes, the spot meter...
The HC-X920 has some cool Wi-Fi functions. You can control the camera from a smartphone, live stream online on Ustream and use the camcorder and your smartphone as remote video surveillance system (the X920 sends one image every five seconds to an encrypted Panasonic server). We had some trouble using the QR Code, which is supposed to make it easier to configure the Wi-Fi feature on Android smartphones, but once we got the connection set up the features were quick to get a hang of. The Ustream feature really came in handy. All you need is a 3G/hotspot-compatible smartphone and the HC-X920 turns into a veritable, lightweight live broadcasting tool (although you have to settle for lower resolution of 320 px in width). With ordinary Wi-Fi, online streaming in 720p becomes a surprisingly simple process.
The Panasonic HC-X920 supports AVCHD2, which allows you to record in 1080p HDTV resolution at 50 fps (28 Mbps). The files are stored on any Class 4-and-up SD/SDHC/SDXC card, in sizes up to 64 GB, and the card goes in the slot on the bottom side of the camcorder. But, worth noting, there's no internal memory. A 32 GB SD card can hold 2 hours and 40 minutes of video in 1080/50p. A word to the video editors out there: 50p files are harder to handle for editing software than 1080/50i AVCHD files. Of course, you can also film at other speeds (28 Mbps, 24 Mbps, 17 Mbps...). It's just too bad the HC-X920 doesn't record smaller files in 720p HDTV resolution, or have a 100 fps slow-mo function.
The three 1/2.3" CMOS BSI sensors (which Panasonic markets as '3MOS') are larger than the HC-X900's (1/4"). The 3MOS system offers well over HDTV 1080p resolution, because it squeezes no fewer than 12,800,000 pixels into the frame. In video mode it only uses 2.8 million of these, but that's per sensor—so you have 8.5 million pixels in all (3 x 2.83 Mpx) for a video in 1920 x 1080. With so much oversampling, you'd think there would be a lot of moiré, but in all the tests we ran the artefacts were hardly visible at all and the precision on our test chart was just... astounding! The colours in video mode are relatively accurate, and you can use the 25p cinema function to get a softer (and slightly less detailed) image with less of that "video" look.
The HC-X920 handles low lighting remarkably well. There isn't too much grain and, of course, you can see the speckling, but it's relatively discreet in most of the scenes we shot indoors and outdoors at night. The white balance works well for outdoors shots, but in tungsten lighting there are a bit too many warm overtones for our tastes...
The Leica lens offers a good 12x zoom with a 30mm wide angle in 24 x 36 equivalent. The optical image stabiliser (dubbed 5-Axis Hybrid O.I.S.+) is effective, generally speaking, although it doesn't handle horizontal movements as well as it does vertical movements. But in any case, when using a telephoto lens it's better having it on than off. There's a "tripod" mode that pushes the stabiliser even further, but it tends to make the image jump any time you move the camcorder.
The 5.1 microphone reproduces ambient sound well, and you can always plug in a different mic and a headphone if you're, say, conducting an interview. The recording volume is manually adjustable.
Naturally, you can also take photos on the HC-X920 (20 Mpx). You can take stills while filming, but each one takes a full three seconds to register. The documentation that comes with the HC-X920 says that the 16:9 photo mode uses just 3 x 2.83 Mpx, for a total of 8.5 Mpx. It's extrapolation again, and the result isn't very impressive.